Young children understand more words than they can speak.

Children communicate with us long before they can speak. In fact from the moment they are born. Speech development is one of the first skills children learn on the road to independence. Learning to communicate and be understood can be a cause of great frustration to toddlers, and the (sometimes perplexed) adults that surround them!

There are many misconceptions about how children learn to talk. This article addresses three of these:


1. Children need to be taught to talk

According to the Linguistic Society of America children don’t need to explicitly be taught to speak. Instead “children acquire language through interaction – not only with their parents and other adults, but also with other children”. This makes preschool or kindergarten a perfect place for children to be interacting with adults and other children to increase their vocabularies.

One thing parents and educators can do to extend early language is repeating and building on what children say as they begin using words. Sharing food is a great example. If a child says, ‘banana,’ reinforce the word in a phrase. ‘Do you want a banana? You want a yellow banana, I want a yellow banana too. Let’s peel them and we’ll have yellow bananas together’.


2. Don’t use big words – children can’t understand them

Have you ever heard a five year old rattle off the names and dietary habits of creatures from the Mesozoic Era (dinosaurs)?

Many children are capable of understanding complex language if it’s a subject that interests them. Using simple words with children doesn’t always mean more effective communication. Children need to be consistently exposed to lots of different words in lots of different contexts. Context helps them learn the meanings of words in their world and how those words function.


3. Children can’t learn 2 languages at once

Uh, Uh – yes they can! Children who come to preschool with a home language different to the one spoken are already learning two languages. Some research suggests that the best age for learning a second language is the earliest years of life. Surrounding children with languages gives them the opportunity to learn different languages and become proficient as part of the learning process.

This snapshot from a series of videos featuring Soyul, a young dual language learner working with Yvette, a monolingual educator show the stages of preschool second language acquisition.


Now that we’ve cleared these three misconceptions up… remember, the very best thing you can do for language development of children is to READ with them.  If you have time for nothing else in your busy day, and amongst all the play…. Take time to stop and read, and oh, the places you will go.  Have fun!

Leave a Reply